Friday, October 10, 2008

James K. A. Smith on Pentecostalism

James K. A. Smith, a Reformed and a Pentecostal, wrote in a recent article on Pentecostalism:

Several aspects of the Pentecostal worldview are worth noting—beginning with the radical openness to God and, in particular, God doing something different or new. This engenders an emphasis on the continued, dynamic presence, activity, and ministry of the Spirit, including continuing revelation, prophecy, and the centrality of charismatic giftings in the ecclesial community. Included in this ministry of the Spirit is a distinctive belief in the healing of the body as a central aspect of the work of the Atonement. In contrast to rationalistic evangelical theology, Pentecostal theology is rooted in an affective epistemology. And contrary to common assumptions about the otherworldliness of Pentecostals, the movement is characterized by a central commitment to mission, with a strong sense that mission includes concern for social justice. Here, I think, Pentecostal theology is poised to make unique contributions to broader discussions. Indeed, the charismatic movement has already influenced liturgical renewal within the Catholic tradition.

Here, I think, is one of the most underappreciated elements of a Pentecostal worldview, for the move from the Spirit’s physical work to a new understanding of physicality offers possibilities for overcoming some of the most pernicious dualisms of modern times. Pentecostal worship involves the body: arms raised or outstretched, bodies prostrate on the floor or dancing in the aisles, the laying on of hands, bodies kneeling at the altar, banners waving, etc. (Cartesian “minds” could never engage in Pentecostal worship!) This is why some Pentecostal theologians such as Frank Macchia and Simon Chan have suggested that a Pentecostal worldview is a sacramental ­worldview. It emphasizes the goodness, necessity, and instrumentality of material elements: God’s Spirit is active through concrete and material phenomena. It is a gritty spirituality—one that affirms all the messiness and awkwardness of embodiment, because it is in and through such embodiment that God’s Spirit is at work.
(Italics original)

What do you think is the problem (not sure if that's a problem to you but it's surely to me) with such radical openness to God, in particular, God doing something different or new?

Joseph Smith, the founder of Mormon, was radically open to God and indeed he claimed that God did something new. God, through an angel, gave him a new written revelation ('new' in the sense that it is recently discovered, not newly written). Ahn Sahng Hong was radically open to God and indeed he also claimed that God did something new. In Ahn's case, he was being revealed that he is the new Christ.

Anything not so right with affective epistemology? Perhaps Smith meant it to be more substantial, but the term itself within that passage suggests that it is an epistemology grounded entirely on body-experience.

Some people feel that self-mutilation aid them in de-stressing themselves. Their knowledge of de-stressing is affected by their bodily-experience. So is Smith talking something like this? I'm sure he is not.

Smith further wrote:

Pentecostals have often accepted rejections of the world, but the core elements of a Pentecostal worldview aim toward an affirmation of the fundamental goodness of spheres of culture related to embodiment, such as the arts. This deserves much more attention than we can give it here. We might note, however, that it is precisely this aspect of Pentecostal spirituality that explains why Pentecostal spirituality is also often attended by a prosperity gospel. The prosperity gospel—whether preached in Africa, Brazil, or suburban Dallas—is, we must recognize, a testament to the very worldliness of Pentecostal theology. It is one of the most un-Gnostic moments of Pentecostal spirituality, which refuses to spiritualize the promise that the gospel is “good news for the poor.” Granted, this means something different and far less admirable in the comfort of an air-conditioned megachurch in suburban Dallas than it does in famished refugee camps in Uganda. But, in both cases, the implicit theological intuition that informs Pentecostal renditions of the prosperity gospel is evidence of a core affirmation that God cares about our bellies and bodies.

Note the last sentence "the implicit theological intuition that informs Pentecostal renditions of the prosperity gospel is evidence of a core affirmation that God cares about our bellies and bodies."

I think prosperity gospel is not motivated from the affirmation of God's unwillingness to see us hungry. For that is not a particularly distinctiveness of that kind of corrupted gospel. Prosperity gospel is, I think, the manifestation of greed undercovered by fuzzy Christians.

I doubt the article is written by James K. A. Smith. Must be a pseudepigraphy. Probably Joel Osteen is the real author.

1 comment:

Caron said...

See: - Peters gave his full length seminar on this at my church and comes highly recommended by my pastor, Dr. John MacArthur.